Publishing Pope Francis: Q&A with Father Paul Campbell, S.J.

Father Brian Campbell, S.J. (Loyola Press)

Father Paul Brian Campbell, S.J., is a Jesuit priest who serves as publisher of Loyola Press in Chicago. Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he joined the Jesuits in Dublin before studying philosophy in Paris and theology in Japan. After ordination, he studied communications and taught at Le Moyne College in Syracuse. He later worked briefly in Hollywood as a producer before becoming publisher of Loyola Press.

On June 1, I interviewed Father Campbell by email about his work and the recent influence of Pope Francis on American Catholic publishing houses.


Loyola Press and other Catholic publishers have been churning out a number of Pope Francis books since 2013. Why?

To date, we've only published two books by Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy and Walking with Jesus. Both books were offered to Loyola Press by a publishing partner in the U.K. and we bid on them, as did many U.S. Catholic and large trade houses. We've also published Chris Lowney's Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads. Chris is one of our best-selling authors with his 2005 book, Heroic Leadership. We've also published in English, Pope Francis: Life and Revolution, an Argentine best-seller by award-winning Vatican journalist and friend of Pope Francis, Elisabetta Pique. Historically, Catholic publishers have always published works by the popes. We published two very successful books by John Paul II but never had the opportunity to the same for Pope Benedict

Having said that, it is clear that Pope Francis has seized the imagination of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. According to our sales people, and retailers like Barnes and Noble and Amazon, as well as our Catholic bookstore partners, Pope Francis's popularity is growing and books by him and about him keep selling. Anticipation for his visit to the U.S. only fuels the current interest.

How has Francis affected Catholic publishing in the United States?

There is a strong desire among Catholic publishers to get the pope’s message of mercy to as many people as possible. With the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has called, beginning in December of this year, the global Catholic Church will focus on mercy as the heart of the Gospels. Also, this message of mercy is a message resonating well beyond the Catholic Church.

You are a small publishing house. Looking at your recent books on Pope Francis, how do you measure their success in the current marketplace?

We’ve done very well with our Pope Francis books, but we measure our success not just by numbers but also by the impact of the Pope’s message on those who read what he says and what reliable sources tell us about him.

Who is your audience for Pope Francis books?

While I don’t believe that we have specific research data about the audience for our Pope Francis books, it has become obvious to us that his works and interest in him far exceeds our normal markets and channels. Media attention alone is unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.

What message do you hope people will take away from these Francis books?

I hope they take what the pope keeps talking about: the church is a “field hospital” with a focus on the poor and the marginalized. The message of the church, which is the message of Jesus Christ, is that God is loving and merciful to everyone.

What is your most successful Pope Francis book and why?

In terms of sales, our most successful book to date is The Church of Mercy. We’ve also been told that it is the best-selling Pope Francis book in the U.S., along with The Joy of the Gospel (which is available in several editions) and America’s own, A Big Open Heart to God.

What makes Loyola Press different from other Catholic publishers offering books by or about Pope Francis?

We are the only Jesuit publishing ministry in North America and so we take great pride in publishing a Jesuit pope, but I don’t think we can claim to be different from other Catholic publishers of Pope Francis.

What is the mission of Loyola Press?

Our internal rallying cry is: “To honor and sustain your desire for a greater friendship with God.” But I would say that our mission is the same as that of any other Jesuit work – to help people find, know and love God in all things.

Loyola Press evolved out of Loyola University Press, but now seems to produce more catechetical and popular material than academic writings. How is Loyola Press continuing to adapt to the market?

Yes, we “evolved” out of our association with Loyola University of Chicago more than 50 years ago, but we have always published textbooks for elementary school children. Our adult spirituality books are a more recent addition, with much attention coming our way in 1997 with the publication of The Gift of Peace by Cardinal Bernardin. It became a fixture on the New York Times Best Seller List, and helped us to know—even as small Catholic publisher—how to publish best sellers like My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J. and The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis.

We adapt to changing needs as best we can. We now have digital versions of our textbooks and our online presence is very strong. Most recently we published a curricula for children with special needs – a marginalized group and often underserved within the Church community.

Loyola Press has bolstered its website in recent years, offering a variety of online resources in Ignatian Spirituality and other areas. What is the goal of this new media platform?

The goal of our social media and other online efforts is no different than with our printed resources – we aim to serve people in ways that help them find God in their lives.

In your view as a Catholic publisher, what is the greatest need in the Catholic Church today?

There are so many needs that is difficult to choose one but I think we certainly need to present ourselves as warm and welcoming.

In our electronic and image-driven age, some people have predicted the death of reading and books. Do you believe print media is dying? Why or why not?

You’re going to bring out the communications teacher in me. New media technologies have not killed older ones; TV did not kill the movies and radio is still ubiquitous. What happens is that the way the medium is used changes. I don’t believe print media are dying, but how print will finally evolve is still open to debate.

Pope Francis created a commission to revamp the Vatican’s media strategy. As a media figure and fellow Jesuit, what is your impression of Francis so far?

I believe he is God’s gift to the church. He’s humble, gentle, open and engaging. What’s not to love about him?

The Bible, of course, remains the most popular Christian book. What is your favorite scripture passage and why?

What an impossible question! As a publisher, however, I find myself drawn to the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...”

In your tenure as publisher, what have been some highlights?

Seeing Teresa Locke take over from a Jesuit as president, celebrating our centenary of service and everything we’ve done for special needs children.

What is your next big project?

We are working on something really exciting right now, but I’ll be tarred and feathered if I breathe a word about it!

Any final thoughts?

No. Thank you for asking, and thanks for this opportunity.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

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Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 4 months ago
I've been hungering for more insight into Bergoglio since he stepped out onto that balcony to become Pope Francis. Looking through the books, I made some mistakes (the book by Leonoardo Boff, which is just a re-hashing of liberation theology and not much about Bergoglio) but I hit the jackpot with Austin Ivereigh's, The Great Reformer, Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope. I respect Loyola press and have a copy of A Bit Heart Open to God. I have found that one must be discerning about which books to buy, especially regarding Pope Francis. Pope Francis books are a big money maker now, and not all the books are worth the money.
Sean Salai, S.J.
3 years 4 months ago

Thanks for reading. I'm working on a book about Pope Francis myself, but for a different publisher -- I hope it turns out ok!

Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 4 months ago
Good luck, Sean. I'll be interested in seeing what you come up with. Francis truly is a fascinating person/story, and from a lot of different angles. Just knowing him deepens my own understanding of what Church / life / God is all about. He is so accessible (and authentic) I feel that he is a personal friend. I feel very blessed to live in this time of Francis. As if something is afoot and we are all witness to it, in real time :-) ...


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